Every year, boundaries are broken. People do things that have never been done before. It happens in big wave surfing frequently that the elusive 100-foot-wave might have been surfed. But since it’s pretty dang hard to actually figure out the height of a given wave, it’s tough to really know for sure. There are just too many moving parts — the angle of the camera, the exact bottom and the exact top, etcetera — to make a definitive call. That doesn’t stop people from trying, though.
They’ll often take the surfer’s height, skim off a few inches to account for their bent knees and hunched spine, then simply see how many times that surfer’s body could fit on the wave face. That, however, doesn’t take into account the bend in the wave face, the exact bottom of the wave, and of course, the fact that the height of a breaking wave is likely changing second-by-second. Getting a measurement of a wave a surfer is on that’s accurate enough to claim it’s a world record could be seen as something of a fool’s errand. And this year at Nazaré, there were more than enough giant swells for a whole lot of “world record” claims.
“Every year there is the same talk,” wrote Nic von Rupp, a man who is intimately familiar with maxing Nazaré. “And honestly, this is the worst part about surfing big waves. It’s when everyone starts pulling out their measurement tapes and the battle starts. Who surfed the biggest wave? Who rode it deeper? That’s not the part I like the most, but we are in a competitive sport, and that requires a winner. What I feel is wrong with that is that less and less there is a rule book on how waves should be measured. Everyone just screams as loud as they can and those who scream the loudest get the public’s attention.”